Streaming is great, but what CBS is doing is a big risk.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. Fifty years, thirteen films, and over seven hundred television episodes in six series later, Star Trek is appealing to the next generation of fans. The alternate-universe reboot series of films is releasing its third, Star Trek Beyond, this weekend. CBS is producing an entirely new television series scheduled to go live on their streaming platform in January 2017.
As consumers, we are inundated with content from every angle. Over the past few years, television has become the content of choice of many where it had never before. The episodic, multi-season arcs of stories are finally having their day in the sun. It is reminiscent of the serialization of the early novel in newspapers. Film is still going strong. The two coexist fairly harmoniously, and bring the number of options for original content to a number nearing infinity every year. I hope that the same is true for Star Trek, but I fear that the two may not coexist so easily.
The six series of Star Trek, as well as most of the films, can be found on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. The upcoming series will not be available on any of those platforms within the United States – not for a while, anyway. It won’t even air on the CBS network. Each episode will be uploaded to CBS’ digital streaming platform, All Access, on a weekly basis. This tactic of releasing desired content on a proprietary streaming platform is becoming the new normal and is causing a lot of confusion and frustration for both soft fans and diehards alike.
There are so many streaming services that it is difficult to even remember them all. Popular content is sometimes shared across platforms, but are also sometimes exclusive to one. In some ways, the all-inclusive cable or satellite packages of the early 2000s were less time-consuming to undertake than the labyrinth of online streaming.
Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are extremely popular and will likely always be popular because they are aggregate services. They obtain the rights to content produced by a variety of studios as well as making their own. One could sit down to watch Star Trek and Broad City in the same sitting on Hulu. There are an enormous amount of options available from aggregate providers, which makes them incredibly easy to justify in terms of a monthly subscription.
CBS All Access is reflective of a growing trend toward more niche streaming services. Of course, the premium cable channels like HBO, Starz, and Showtime have created their own platforms. Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection have teamed up to create a new niche service called Film Struck for independent, arthouse features that Criterion is known for.
A fan of Star Trek, Homeland, and Game of Thrones would need at least three different streaming subscriptions just to keep up. If this trend continues and the streaming landscape turns more toward niche services, it will become harder and harder for fans to keep up with the wide range of content that we crave.